Becky's Reviews > Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
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Jan 12, 10

bookshelves: ya-fantasy, did-not-care-for

I really disliked this book. But what really, really annoyed me about the book was the narration. It’s a first-person book, so Alcatraz is telling the story. And Alcatraz will not shut up. The book is full of asides where he talks about nothing directly relating to the plot or action of the story; usually these are about books and writing. Which sounds interesting until you realize that it’s four to five paragraphs of this for every event that happens in the book. And I don’t mean event like big, dramatic plot point, I mean event as in, every little thing Alcatraz does. Like opening the door. Or getting in the car. Sometimes these asides are a couple pages long. It takes away any dramatic build and wrecks the pacing. The whole book is based around one event—getting the sands back—but it reads very much like the sort of thing which should kick off an adventure in a better-paced book. Instead, it’s the whole book, because the narration gets in the way of letting things happen.

Aside from which, the narration is also incredibly smug and self-satisfied. Most of the asides, rather than amusing, are about how truly wonderful and amazing of a book it is…which it isn’t. There are a lot of bits about how evil librarians would like you to read real literature, but real literature is boring and about dead dogs and dead mothers and is all stupid, and people should read good books (like his) instead:

Actually, my experience has been that people generally don’t recommend this kind of book at all. It is far too interesting. Perhaps you have had other kinds of books recommended to you. Perhaps, even, you have been given books by friends, parents, or teachers, then told that these books are the type you “have to read.” Those books are invariably described as “important” –which, in my experience, means that they’re boring. (Words like *meaningful* or *thoughtful* are other good clues.)


Right, because god forbid anyone read literary fiction, or enjoy being challenged or thoughtful. I am usually the first person to defend genre fiction from people who claim it isn’t worthwhile, but it turns out, I can’t stand the opposite, either. There is a place for all kinds of books and stories, and it isn’t anyone’s job to talk about how terrible the other kind are. Reading that passage (and, in fact, the rest of the book), I didn’t feel like a kindred spirit who enjoys good, non-tragic stories about magic and adventure, I felt annoyed and wanted to know where the hell Alcatraz/Sanderson got off trying to tell me what kinds of stories are objectively good or bad, and what was right or wrong to enjoy.

The even more irritating thing was that it read like someone might have, at some point, told Sanderson that he had a bad habit of talking too much for no reason and instead of taking the criticism to heart—or even just blowing it off—he worked hard at making fun of whomever had dared. Because you get passages like the following, lengthy bit of stupidity at the beginning of chapter 10:

Are you annoyed with me yet?

Good. I’ve worked very hard – perhaps I will explain why later – to frustrate you. One of the ways I do this is by leaving cliff-hangers at the ends of chapters. These sorts of things force you, the reader, to keep on plunging through my story.

This time, at least, I plan to make good on the cliff-hanger. The one at the end of the previous chapter is entirely different from the hook I used at the beginning of the book. You remember that one, don’t you? Just in case you’ve forgotten, I believe it said:

“So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.”

This sort of behavior – using hooks to start books – is inexcusable. In fact, when you read a sentence like the one at the beginning of a book, you should know not to continue reading. I have it on good authority that when an author gives a hook like this, he isn’t ever likely to explain why the poor hero is tied to an altar – and, if the explanation does come, it won’t arrive until the end of the story. You’ll have to sit through long, laborious essays, wandering narratives, and endless ponderings before you reach the small bit of story that you wanted to read in the first place.

Hooks and cliff-hangers belong only at the ends of chapters. That way, the reader moves on directly to the next page – where, thankfully, they can read more of the story without having to suffer some sort of mindless interruption.

Honestly, authors can be so self-indulgent.


Talk about self-indulgent. That whole passage adds nothing at all to the book. It interrupts what was, indeed, a decent cliffhanger at the end of the previous chapter. By the time I finished it, I was annoyed; not at the cliffhanger, but at the narration. It gets in its own way. It destroys the suspense by taking you out of the moment, out of the story as a whole. It reads as if someone told Sanderson, “You know, the narration can be kind of clever, but don’t you think you should tone it down?” and instead of doing that, he decided to hang a lamp on it, spending more of the book talking about the book than actually telling the story. And most of it is so very smug, so very disdainful of the idea that someone might not enjoy it, and so caught on how totally awesome and great it is, that it induces the need to strangle.

On top of all that, the book tries so desperately hard to be wacky that it’s merely annoyingly random. Like, for example, I really like some of the basic concepts, like that it’s a magic talent that causes Alcatraz to break everything he touches, but when you look at other people’s talents (being late! falling down! spouting gibberish!), plus things like talking dinosaurs and references to giant penguins and the repetition of the word “rutabaga” it reads as, “Look at me! I’m silly! Aren’t I wacky? Aren’t you entertained?! This is so fun and wacky!!!!!!!”

Which… No. Wackiness and randomness can be fun and hilarious and entertaining, but if you have to yell about how fun and wacky they are, you’re failing at it. But then, if you have to devote pages and pages and pages to talking about how awesome the literary techniques you’re using are instead of just using them well… Nope. “Show, don’t tell,” applies there. Show me you’re a good writer by using literary techniques; show me you’re funny by making me laugh.

Even more, including a rant on religion: http://www.active-voice.net/2008/02/1...
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